By Dr Nina Browne
I am in a Teepee. It is placed in the entrance to Blackpool hospital. I am sat next to a breast-cancer surgeon. She is on her lunch break. She just finished a conversation with a young mother whose baby’s heartbeat was lost, and then found. The mother was washed out. After the mother left, the surgeon turned to me. She said “that is a game-changer for me. This news we tell our patients. How you do that is so important. I’m going to talk differently now”.
A 30 minute break had changed her practice. Maybe. During her long career at the hospital this surgeon felt connected to her patients. But now she realised, maybe it wasn’t enough.
The Teepee is the brainchild of Camerados, a movement to end social isolation. They create spaces for people to meet, to be with each other. They call them Public Living Rooms. The Teepee like their other living rooms break down the barriers and divisions that divide us up. The medical profession exudes power. Patients feel vulnerable. Some of them are fighting for their lives. The Teepee allows doctors, nurses, patients and visitors to be people, each as worthy as the other.
I have worked in the NHS, I am a clinical psychologist. I’ve also been a patient. Now I have experienced a space where no-one knows if I am one or the other. A space where it doesn’t matter. As a psychologist though these things matter. My training restricts how much I can disclose about myself, what I can share, when, and how. It is important to maintain boundaries. That professional armour has made me feel safe.
Along the way we lose connection. And maybe we lose much else that is needed to help people help themselves. I left the Teepee that day with a huge question. How can a space lead a doctor to significantly shift her mind set? On her lunch break!
This isn’t day to day psychology. It is community psychology. It is psychology out of the clinic and in the community where people work together to resolve each others difficulties. It is a psychology rooted in real human experiences, like a mother traumatised by her baby’s illness. It is a psychology where the mother has the power, and where the professional is challenged to think again, to think differently.
Join the movement www.camerados.org